I had a youth conference Friday night and all day Saturday, and it was...well...(how do I put this diplomatically?) it was TBN-ish. Yeah, that's probably about the best way to put it. I only had a few kids sign up (one had to drop out due to illness), so it was a small group from my church, but overall there were probably about 400 kids. It started out pretty good - the band and singer were in good form and the music, though not exactly to my tastes, was God-focused. But then things got TBN-ish. The main speaker was frenetic - he spoke quickly and with frequent side-bars in funny voices (this being a youth conference, after all), and, I promise I am not exaggerating, every syllable of every word was punctuated with some kind of hand gesture. Whether it was both arms flailing over his head, chopping up and down, back and forth, pointing, hand to chest or some combination thereof, he never stopped moving. At first, it was quite distracting, but after a while it became almost hypnotic. He also made up some of his own terminology - I mean, is "idolaterize" really a word? - and they repeated the same 4 or 5 songs throughout the weekend, sometimes 2 or 3 times in the same session. I took a class on cults in college, and they were meeting some of the criteria - hypnosis through those gestures and the repetitive songs, and making up their own words. I was half expecting to be handed a rifle on Saturday night and told to hole up in the mountains so I could resist the federal government. It was weird.
But thanks to the Cult Recruiting Conference, I had a little flex-time to burn this morning, so I went to a local coffee shop. Kind of in preparation for another analytical post on my church, I started writing down the strengths and weaknesses of my church, trying to be as honest as I could. This church does do some things very well and frequently the motivation for the things that bother me is a good one, as well. I may think its wrong to play secular music in the service, but they are doing that in order to break down false barriers to faith that people often erect. They are trying to reach out and be relevant, even if I think the relevance they are producing does more harm than good. So I took stock and asked "how likely is it that any of these problems (as I see them) are going to change?" I realized it is not likely at all. We will not abandon the business model of our church, at least not easily, because that has been the norm for many years. We will not pursue a strong discipleship program because of our major emphasis on evangelism - when resources are limited, and they often are, evangelism will carry the day every time. And because of that emphasis on evangelism, it would take major efforts to show that, perhaps, the way we do things is not the best way. Even then, there would be major institutional resistance from the lay leadership since that is not the church that they know. We are not likely to implement a strong elder board so the senior pastor has someone to be accountable too because, quite frankly, he has gotten used to the freedom of his position. Personally, I know it will be hard to go back to a "regular" job after this precisely because of the freedom I have.
So these things are not likely to change, and even if they do, they will take some time - years probably. And, quite frankly, neither my wife nor myself are really willing to invest that kind of time here - either in this church or this town. With that in mind, it would be dishonest of me to stay here any longer than I need to. I am not on board with the mission and praxis of this church any longer. Basically, then, we're going to be actively seeking the Lord for a time to leave, a place to go, a job to get and a smooth transition. I am quite certain that I do not want to get another job in youth ministry right now - I'll post more on the reasons for that later - but I'm not sure what I'd like to do. I would appreciate your prayers for what I listed above and for the kids here. They will be the hardest thing to leave and that is honestly the biggest obstacle to leaving in my mind right now. I think of telling them that we're leaving and I don't even know how to begin to explain the many reasons for it.